The fight over wind turbine siting moves from Greenvale Township to Rice County

"Township Wind Turbine Discussion" is agenda item #6 at tonight’s work session after the Northfield City Council meeting.

Dr. Gary Carlson, a physician at Allina, has a commentary in today’s Strib titled Wind energy’s ripple effects.

Gary CarlsonI just returned from a meeting of my county planning committee, where we debated the pros and cons of our neighbor’s proposal to put up two 400-foot wind turbines, with the closest about 1,300 feet from our property line. My family lives on a bluff on the edge of Northfield…

Getting up to speed on the science of sound and the medical research related to wind turbines has been exhausting, and in the process I have discovered the dark medical underbelly of industrial-sized turbines. They produce a lot of infrasonic and low-frequency noise.

See:

Scattered across four Rice County townships and capable of producing as much as one megawatt of power each, the six turbines that received preliminary approval would be constructed by Gro Wind LLC. — a company presided over by Leone Medin.  Medin was a co-owner of Medin Renewable Energy, which attempted to construct the 11-turbine Greenvale Township wind farm in Dakota County along with another company, Sparks Energy.

The companies’ plans failed last year after the wind farm ran into heavy opposition from township residents. According to permit applications submitted by the companies to Rice County, the two turbines that did not receive preliminary approval from the Planning Commission would be developed by Spring Creek Wind LLC., co-owned by Anna Schmalzbauer, Medin’s daughter.

194 thoughts on “The fight over wind turbine siting moves from Greenvale Township to Rice County”

  1. I intend to answer Patrick’s specific information/standards question later when I’m able, but let me just traipse on through here with a couple quick comments:

    1. If I were truly Czarina and had the final say on whether or not the SCW turbine would be approved as proposed, I’d vote yes.

    2. No one’s advocating “blocking” use of land because of viewsheds, future development, or whatnot. The question being contemplated was whether or not placing the turbine on that location could have a negative impact on Northfield’s future land use options, based on the objectives of our existing planning documents. I say yes, it could. No one can say definitively that it won’t, or even that it’s unlikely, given the proximity to city limits.

    3. I suspect it won’t matter one way or another what the Northfield Planning Commission or City Council says to Rice County on the issue.

  2. Bruce – your lack of objectivity is quite clear and I fail to see what finger you’re pointing at me, exactly. My position is one of cautious approval for the Hubers turbines. My blog post did not take an explicit position, but punted the question to the PC.

    The Carleton wind project does feel good – the clarity of their mission, their demonstrated ability to erect one turbine (and learn from the experience to site the next one to directly link to their grid), and their willingness to share information early and often all help.

    The Spring Creek project does not feel quite so good. First, staff did not get us the info. Not the developers’ fault, but it got us off on the wrong foot. Next, questions raised by Carol Overland about the sum of the projects by Spring Creek Wind/Gro Wind and following applicable rules (and the subsequent mandamus action with Gro Wind) didn’t help make it look procedurally good. Add extremely concerned and very vocal neighbors to hear; even if you consider their concerns unjustified (I think their evidence is debatable at best) we must hear them out and respond that we have heard. Next, there’s the financial issues which Bruce Morlan raises – out of the purview of the Council and PC, but still distracting.

    Now, after the procedural and neighborly concerns, we still need to consider the impact of the project. I believe the balance tips in favor of the project, but not overwhelmingly. Given the emphasis on preserving valuable ag land and a rural edge to Northfield weighs in favor. The actual and symbolic economic development potential is might be a plus. Development may be impacted and Northfield’s plans for the south end of the city may change; this is an unknown but a big one.

    Finally, part of my less than avid support is political – I want a wind project to champion which looks like a sure-fire success. Carleton’s meets that goal. Spring Creek Wind might and the downsides have more to do with money and developer experience than the merits of wind and turbine siting.

    1. Betsey,
      I don’t pretend to be an objective arbiter. I am an advocate for local development of the clean, renewable energy I believe we need urgently and quickly, and which, done properly, can be a Very Good Thing for the community.

      I believe that the Spring Creek Wind developers ARE attempting to do their project properly. It’s certainly not a perfect project (I would, for example, love to see them develop these projects with a greater level of local investment, open to a larger number of local investors), but I’m not willing to let a quest for the perfect derail The Very Good.

      I’m not pointing a finger at you, Betset. I was simply taken aback at the language you were using in your blog post, which didn’t strike me as being reflective of the kind of objectivity I hope for from elected officials.

  3. Bruce, I still do not understand your concern. Yes, I have questions and if my language was critical it was also not conclusive. I think having elected officials ask questions rather than accept answers is a pretty good deal. If the second ward would prefer a cheerleader to a critic, they can vote against me should I decide to run for reelection (or recall me if they’re really mad, of course).

    1. Betsey,
      I’m not looking for a cheerleader or a critic, simply objectivity. I’ll let others read your blog post and see if your language comes across as objective. It didn’t strike me that way.

      By all means, please continue to ask questions on all sides of every issue!!!! I don’t want no lapdogs on the City Council.

  4. While doing some lunch-hour research on the internets, I came across the following article which I think is germane to the discussion here. It was written in response to what appears to be a dark-medical-underbelly-of-wind discussion in Oregon similar to the dust-up initiated locally by Gary Carlson:

    There’s no evidence of health impacts from wind energy, http://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2010/11/theres_no_evidence_of_health_i.html

    A few of the more pertinent extracts:
    “While there are legitimate issues worth debating with regard to wind energy development, public health impacts are not among them. The Oregonian’s recent coverage of such impacts does a disservice to readers by further amplifying the discredited hypothesis of a single wind opponent, Nina Pierpont, whose self-published work has been widely criticized by sound experts.

    While opponents of wind energy have attempted to use self-published reports to block projects, the science is clear. Independent studies conducted around the world consistently find that wind farms have no direct impact on physical health. In fact, with no air or water pollution emissions, wind energy is essential to reducing public health impacts from the energy sector.”

    and

    “Inevitably all Oregon communities will weigh the costs and benefits of wind energy differently, but citizens should be presented with accurate and science-based information with which to make their decisions.”

    Robert J. McCunney is a research scientist in occupational and environmental medicine at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Department of Biological Engineering. Robert Dobie is a clinical professor of otolaryngology at both the University of Texas-San Antonio and the University of California, Davis. David M. Lipscomb is president of Correct Service Inc. in Stanwood, Wash.

  5. For those interested in the research available regarding the possible health effects associated with proximity to wind turbines, I did find this recent literature review by the Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health, dated May 2010:

    http://www.health.gov.on.ca/en/public/publications/ministry_reports/wind_turbine/wind_turbine.pdf

    The CMOH reviews and summarizes the available literature, and writes:

    The review concludes that while some people living near wind turbines report symptoms such
    as dizziness, headaches, and sleep disturbance, the scientific evidence available to date does
    not demonstrate a direct causal link between wind turbine noise and adverse health effects.
    The sound level from wind turbines at common residential setbacks is not sufficient to cause
    hearing impairment or other direct health effects, although some people may find it annoying.

    Apart from the Officer’s literature review, the report also states that Ontario’s legal setback requirements include a minimum setback of 550m/1800ft, and a threshold of 40dB.

    1. Thanks for the useful information, Patrick. It should also be noted that the report states, concerning the setback requirement (from a “receptor”, which is presumably an occupied building, rather than a property line):

      “Ontario used the most conservative sound modelling available nationally and internationally,
      which is supported by experiences in the province and in other jurisdictions.”

      1. Bruce,

        Ontario’s wind turbine policies do seem to be defensible, reasonable, and carefully considered. I would be just fine with MN adopting a similar guideline under such reasoning. I would also think that 1,000, 1,250, and 1500 feet (or 45 or 50dB) could be reasonable, defensible guidelines. But there doesn’t seem to be much of any kind of a case to be made for any setback of greater than the Ontario rules of 1800 feet and 40 dB.

        More importantly, arbitrary fiat is not a particularly defensible position to take. Regardless of possible regulatory schemes which you or I or a Planning Commissioner might envision, it does seem to me that the applicants should be judged based upon actual existing laws and guidelines, which have been crafted by our elected representatives and deputies – unless a compelling interest can be shown for deviating from the law of the land in this instance.

        Noone seems to have made such a case in this instance.

  6. Regarding the six GroWind projects in Rice (4) and Scott County(2) — is that count right? Let’s remember that the Office of Energy Security and the Public Utilities Commission have yet to weigh in on the disputed “Size Determination” which MOES made without verification of any primary documentation. And over a month ago, I made a Data Practices Act Request for the state file for that “Size Determination” and all I’ve received were the form requests, nothing more, no Power Purchase Agreements (redacted, of course), no financing agreements or details (redacted, of course) and those kinds of things that would demonstrate whether these are “connected” or “not connected” under the state’s statutory criteria. Still waiting…

  7. I’ve been asked to clarify what I said yesterday about what I would do if I were the benevolent dictator of Sim City Northfield.

    Given the specifics of this particular CUP application (SCW), my own opinion is that clean renewable local energy plugged into our grid trumps the less-than-desirable distance to Northfield’s urban expansion boundary. Even before the real estate crash, Northfield had a 5-7 year oversupply of housing (by boom-years standards), and I don’t believe it’s likely that we’ll have pressure for more building on our southern edge for quite awhile. The turbines would be roughly half a mile from our current City limits, and about 3500 ft from existing neighborhoods.

    However, I’m not the dictator, I’m making general policy recommendations to another body. And in terms of my assessment of whether the CUPs for Spring Creek Wind would have an impact on Northfield’s future planning and development options based on our current guiding documents, the answer is yes.

    1. Tracy: you have been more than accommodating in answering the somewhat strident voices questioning you and the Planning Commission’s decision in general.

      I hope you’ll let your clear answers suffice at this point; The politicization of this issue, balanced against the existing law, has made it very difficult for the Planning Commission.

      I think we are extremely lucky… as a city now without a planner… to have a Planning Commission of Citizen Volunteers who are as informed as they are, and who take their job so seriously.

    2. I’m still puzzled how you can reconcile your Planning Commission Chair vote in favor of the resolution with your Tsarina statement above, Tracy. As Patrick said above in comment 48.1:

      Steve and Alice seem to have understood the issue quite clearly.

      The proposed site meets all legal criteria, and is outside your jurisdiction. You have also failed to demonstrate how it negatively affects the areas within your jurisdiction.

      1. Steve and Alice had a different opinion than the other five Planning Commissioners as to whether or not the principles, goals, and objectives of the Comp Plan have any relationship to a turbine outside our jurisdiction. As Commissioner Ivan Imm noted at the meeting, wind doesn’t necessarily respect municipal boundaries.

        The PC doesn’t need to demonstrate how a turbine placed on that site might negatively affect the area within our jurisdiction; we only need to demonstrate that it could have an impact on our planning options and municipal self-determination.

        Bruce, I’ve explained as best I can. Either I’ve failed, or we just disagree.

  8. Patrick et al,

    Here are some resources from an assortment of other governmental bodies, committees, and studies indicating current thinking, rationales, best practices and mitigation efforts re wind turbines. I tended to concentrate on reports and studies from northern climates which had winter conditions similar to Minnesota. These are in no particular order.

    Nova Scotia, Canada Municipal Sustainability Office report

    There are no internationally accepted standards for addressing some of the most controversial issues surrounding wind energy (including noise). Instead there are a broad range of possibilities, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. Elected officials will have to decide how restrictive they will want to be in their approach to regulation and in the specifics of their by-laws based on larger societal goals and objectives, and balancing of various risks (e.g. health risks to nearby residents versus risks from climate change if a transition to alternative energy sources is delayed).

    Dr. Terry Matilsky, Professor of Physics at Rutgers University, recommends conservative setbacks as a way to avoid a lot of problems. It’s clear there’s a lot we don’t yet know about the health and safety effects of wind turbines, and oftentimes decisions are being made based on inaccurate information and/or flawed methodologies. Matilsky affirmatively cites a 1983 study indicating that a range of 800m/2500 feet was possible for blade throw accidents (although the risk of that was low.) His general recommendation is for a setback of 518 meters/1700 ft.

    Jackson, NH: Wind Subcommittee Recommendations (2009) Recommended setback: 1 mile to occupied buildings; ½ mile to abutting property line; 1680 feet to nearest public road right-of-way.

    Ontario, Canada: Chief Medical Officer of Health Report (2010) which I believe you also cited above, Patrick. Setback: 550 metres (1640 ft)

    Vancouver, Canada: National Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health, British Columbia Centre for Disease Control (2010)

    US Environmental Protection Agency wind power fact sheet (2007)

    Minnesota Department of Health (2009) public health impact of wind turbines

    Links to a bunch of ordinances from towns in Wisconsin, most of which have been formulated with excellent legally defensible rationales for their conservative setbacks (generally 1/2 mile).

    There’s plenty more, but I’m not going to spend any more time on this issue. I’ve attempted to be a conscientious local official and keep the public informed about meeting schedules, roles & responsibilities, actions taken; communicating the whens, whys, hows, and wherefores.

    At the risk of sounding snarky, but really to make a point about the expectations and demands placed on uncompensated board and commission members in Northfield, I’d like to state what I’ve personally had to do for ONE Planning Commission meeting, in order to make a recommendation for comment to another governmental body, which didn’t even involve an actual decision.

    • - Review a 400+ page document provided by residents
    • - My own reading and research to inform myself on the issue, which amounted to 5-6 hours
    • - Three hours or so of meetings, phone calls, emails to various people at City Hall for meeting preparation
    • - Responding to multiple phone calls and emails from Northfield constituents before the meeting
    • - Two hours of phone tag and 45 minutes of talk with the radio station and the newspaper after the meeting
    • - Two hours yesterday compiling information in order to communicate and respond to questions regarding the PC motion
    • - Another 2 hours today assembling these references and writing up this stuff


    This is a volunteer position. I have a job, a family, and a life (or at least I used to). I have to be done now. And I’m not being snarky, just direct.

  9. Tracy,
    I understand that you are a busy person, and that you “have to be done now.”

    Briefly, though, could you point me to where you “demonstrate[d] that it could have an impact on our planning options and municipal self-determination”?

    1. Patrick, EVERYTHING impacts planning options and municipal self-determination once you cross over from the simple property rights domain into the look and feel domain of community standards and quality of life issues. Everything. While the City does not own and (I believe) does not even include the subject land in their Urban Reserve space, in some sense wind turbines are like airports … large, visible, and (to some) unpleasant to have nearby. That alone suggests that the City has the right to weigh in. On the other hand, my argument is much more extra-legal, and much more social justice. It is that if cities need power, then they should be willing to put up with power plants, wind turbines, large fields of solar cells (well, not HERE for sure), etc. Planners who do not think this way are responsible for many of our failings as a society, since we let developers assume that things like power, food, sewer treatment and roads are their given right to have access to and that as long as they pay the tiny little connection fees, providing the infrastructure is the taxpayers’ problem. To a certain extent they are correct, society needs to build some infrastructure. But unlike private businesses, public infrastructure is sometimes built on emotion (I love trains) not need (I need food).

      The fact that the PC split on this issue shows that the fault line between reason and wishing is a fine line indeed.

      1. Bruce,

        I agree with you completely that “everything impacts planning options and municipal self-determination once you cross over from the simple property rights domain into the look and feel domain of community standards and quality of life issues.”

        However, there has to be a standard by which one determines when the city’s interests prevail, and when simple property rights prevail. As I understand it, that line of demarcation is guided by state law (setbacks, environmental regulations, etc.) and by local zoning regulations and comprehensive plans.

        In this case, the law seems to be clear, whether or not you or I or Tracy think that MN setback laws are too short. The zoning rules, I gather, are also clear. That leaves the Plan. As I understand it, the Plan does not speak at all to the land upon which the proposed turbines would be built. If the city did have an interest in what was to be built on that land, it seems clear to me that the city should’ve either: 1) included that area within its comprehensive plan, or 2) worked with the appropriate neighboring planning officials and governmental bodies to develop a regional plan which would guide development outside the region controlled by the city’s comprehensive plan.

        I also feel that Planning decisions should be guided by carefully crafted rules which have been prepared in advance, rather than trying to make up standards on the fly as individual development proposals are brought forward. Such a course seems like it would be better for long-term planning, more fair to property owners, and less prone to impulse, arbitrary decision, and fiat.

        However, Bruce, this is clearly an area with which you have far more familiarity than do I. Perhaps you could expand upon this, or point out something that I have missed or misunderstood?

  10. Here is a large (24MB) PDF of the memo and materials sent to the Northfield Planning Commission and City Council last week from the Neighborhood Group opposed to Spring Creek Wind, LLC, Wind Turbine Project

    http://locallygrownnorthfield.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/NorthfieldPlanningCommissionWindTurbineDocumentationn2010.10.24n.pdf

    The text from the first page:

    POSITION STATEMENT

    As you consider current and future land use planning and zoning, we believe that industrial wind turbines are incompatible in existing and developing residential areas for three primary reasons.

    (1) In the particular case of the Spring Creek Wind Turbine Project, the towers are being sited in an existing residential environment, which is also destined for further residential development as the City of Northfield expands to the southeast. The proposed turbines are as high as a 40-story building and have a moving rotor expanse almost as wide as a football field. They are simply not appropriate for a residential community.

    (2) Appraisers, both locally and nationally, document that industrial wind turbines severely impact property values around them. This is a logical result of placing the turbines in incompatible zones.

    (3) Finally, study after study reports serious negative health impacts from those living near industrial wind turbines. There is, however, a win-win solution which balances the need for increased energy demands and the health and well-being of communities. First, place the industrial turbines in compatible areas such as truly open spaces and industrial/commercial zones. And, second, require appropriate setbacks that protect the health of citizens and the future growth and development of municipalities.

    Explanation of materials presented for your consideration:

    I. INFORMATION FROM LOCAL SOURCES (small binder)

    We have attached information from local sources regarding the issues of zoning incompatibility, property valuation, and health affects. The voices in this binder are rooted in the community, rational in their presentations and committed to the long term health, development and growth of Northfield. This material includes an extremely informative letter from Paul Smith, a local appraiser and realtor with vast experience in the real estate market in the Northfield area, as well as a letter from Joel Pumper, Dr. Gary Carlson and a memo to the Planning Commission regarding relevant city land use regulations.

    II. SUPPLEMENTARY RESOURCES (large binder)

    The large binder you are being given contains supplementary articles and testimony prepared or presented in other contexts, much of it in State of Minnesota proceedings. Some of this material is highly scientific and technically challenging to read and understand. However, we wanted to provide some context for these issues.

    The bottom line is that these issues of zoning, compatibility, land valuations and health are simply not unique to Northfield. The conversation that we are having is being carried out before numerous governmental and municipal bodies. This is not “NIMBY-ism” or “pseudo-science.” In fact, the wind turbine conversation is being held in multiple back yards given the growth of the wind industry. And, the scientific and health communities are playing a very important role in helping to shape and inform public policy.

    We appreciate your careful consideration of these materials and of this serious subject.
     

    1. Mercy. As I’ve stated before, I don’t have a financial dog in this fight, and I’m glad I don’t. I don’t have the resources to produce a 460-page document or respond to it in full, as I have a full-time job, a family, limited financial resources, and (yes! it’s true!) A Life.

      However, I was disturbed enough by this imbroglio, even before seeing this massive tome, that I couldn’t sleep well last night. I got up around 3:30 a.m., stoked the woodstove, and composed the following letter which may (or may not) appear in tomorrow’s Northfield News. It addresses only one of the issues that troubles me about this whole affair, but hey, when you only have 400 words to work with, you gotta focus.

      For what it’s worth:

      To the editor:

      Setbacks are key: they should remain unchanged until informed by sound science
      I agree with Gary Carlson (“Setbacks key for turbines,” November 13) that wind turbine setbacks are important. All energy facilities, even relatively benign ones such as individual or small numbers of utility-scale turbines, need to be sited carefully, with appropriate, science-based setbacks.

      Unfortunately, Carlson’s proposed one-mile setback is not based on sound science. The information summarized in his opinion piece, and submitted to the Northfield Planning Commission, contributing to their ill-advised split decision on the proposed Spring Creek Wind project (“Planning Commission says no to turbines in township,” November 30) is composed of anecdotal reports and case studies, is not reflective of mainstream science, and is not supported by recognized health authorities.

      For example, a May 2010 report from an unbiased source (“The Potential Health Impact of Wind Turbines,” The Chief Medical Officer of Health of Ontario, http://www.health.gov.on.ca/en/public/publications/ministry_reports/wind_turbine/wind_turbine.pdf, notes that “published papers in peer-reviewed scientific journals, and reviews by recognized health authorities such as the World Health Organization (WHO) carry more weight in the assessment of health risks than case studies and anecdotal reports.” The review concludes that “while some people living near wind turbines report symptoms such as dizziness, headaches, and sleep disturbance, the scientific evidence available to date does not demonstrate a direct causal link between wind turbine noise and adverse health effects. The sound level from wind turbines at common residential setbacks is not sufficient to cause hearing impairment or other direct health effects, although some people may find it annoying.”

      The setback issue is, indeed, key. At Carlson’s proposed setback of one mile no wind turbines could ever be sited anywhere in Rice County. Nor could they be sited anywhere else near electricity loads (i.e. where people live and benefit from electricity). The only possible wind projects would be large, remote corporate wind farms, requiring massive, controversial power line investment and construction, running through somebody else’s backyard.

      Some modest, reasonable revision of Minnesota’s (and Rice County’s) wind turbine setback requirements may be advisable in the future as the science evolves. However, it surely is not the place of the City of Northfield to arbitrarily comment negatively to Rice County (the permitting authority) on the proposed project based on such weak evidence.

      I urge supporters of responsible local clean energy development to voice your support of the Spring Creek Wind project to your city council representative (prior to Tuesday’s meeting at which the council will review and comment) and Rice County commissioner.

  11. The Council agenda and packet for next Tues, Dec 7 is up and the wind turbine-related stuff is on pages 111-141 of the big, unfriendly, badly formatted PDF packet.

    But for your convenience, here is a PDF of the 12 pages that includes the staff report and the Planning Commission recommendation. 

    Interesting tidbit:

    The current placement of the turbines shown in the Conditional Use permit application packet was selected as equidistant from the several properties on top of the bluff. The applicant indicated that possibly the precise location could be shifted without compromising the wind power of the project.
     

  12. At the risk of being perceived as an even more tiresome gasbag than I already am…
    For the record: the three-minute statement of support (for the Carleton AND Spring Creek Wind projects) I read at the open microphone for the November 29 Planning Commission meeting can be found at http://sustainablecommunitysolutions.com/2010/12/04/spring-creek-wind-project-open-microphone-statement-november-29-planning-commission-meeting/). (It’s only one page — not 460!)

  13. I promise I won’t dump any more info here today. However, again, for the record, the letter to the editor I wrote for today’s Northfield News (before it was edited a bit by The News, and their somewhat misleading headline inserted:

    Setbacks are key: they should remain unchanged until informed by sound science

    http://sustainablecommunitysolutions.com/2010/12/04/setbacks-are-key-they-should-remain-unchanged-until-informed-by-sound-science/

  14. Sound science, a term used in the discussions above, has two meanings: the one I like is from a tracing search I did, yes, on the internet, checking on the ‘if you can’t hear it, it can’t effect you’ statement of G. Leventhal, quoted in the article referenced in Bruce’s link in #63 to his (Bruce’s) website.

    In summary it says: “For years, people have been told that infrasound you cannot hear cannot affect you. This is completely wrong.

    Because the inner ear does respond to infrasound at levels that are not heard, people living near wind turbines are being put at risk by infrasound effects on the body that no one presently understands.

    Until a scientific understanding of this issue is established we should not be dismissing these effects, but need to be erring on the side of caution.”

    citation is http://www.wind-watch.org/documents/?p=2072

    Yes, we must harness wind for something other than rustling leaves; but perhaps leaving room in the ‘permitting processes’ for liability for unintended consequences (both unknown, and, in the more contemporaneous use, excluded from of the initial plan in hopes there would be no surprises).

  15. Dean,

    Your suggested definition of “sound science” is not a particularly standard definition of science – whether you are referring to “properly-conducted science,” or to the “science of sound.”

    A more commonly accepted definition of science is available at Wikipedia:

    “Science (from the Latin scientia, meaning “knowledge”) is an enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the natural world.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Science

    In general, the process of developing scientific knowledge is to develop a hypothesis, and then to design and conduct systematic experiments and observations which can either support or refute that hypothesis.

    For the layperson, or for a scientist in an unrelated field, a good place to start when looking for “good science” (or at least “not obviously fatally flawed science”) is to look to research which has been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. The role of peer review is quite simple: it is a confirmation that the research appears to have been conducted systematically, in compliance with the scientific method. It is also a preliminary confirmation that the researcher’s data to some degree supports the conclusions that they have drawn.

    As it is, the quote you have extracted is not from the source that Bruce cited in his letter to the editor, above (that is, at http://www.health.gov.on.ca/en/public/publications/ministry_reports/wind_turbine/wind_turbine.pdf ). Rather, it is from a PPT presentation by Alec N. Salt, a member of the “The Society for Wind Vigilance” anti-turbine advocacy group.

    Dr. Salt has published a peer-reviewed review article on the ability of the ear to be affected by ‘infrasound.’ However, it seems to only be a summary work of other researchers’ laboratory work on infrasound perception – and not any actual study of wind turbines or their neighbors. (The article is behind a pay wall, so I cannot confirm this.) I have found no actual peer-reviewed research done by Dr. Salt or anyone else, on the matter of health effects of infrasound on neighbors of wind turbines. All Dr. Salt is able to conclude in his peer-reviewed review article is:

    “This raises the possibility that exposure to the infrasound component of wind turbine noise could influence the physiology of the ear.”

    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6T73-509XPTP-3&_user=10&_coverDate=09%2F01%2F2010&_rdoc=1&_fmt=high&_orig=search&_origin=search&_sort=d&_docanchor=&view=c&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=6c39d05dc483223f8505873b201eeee3&searchtype=a

    Not a very strong conclusion, I would have to say.

    There are an awful lot of wind turbines in the world. Heck, a very large number of St. Olaf college students live 1,000 feet from the turbine on the west side of town. If infrasound, or ordinary sound from wind turbines, is as life-changing as anti-turbine advocates assert, then it would seem to be a very simple matter to study comparable groups of individuals at different distances from wind turbines (including “nowhere near any wind turbine whatsoever”) and measure any differences in health between these groups.

    The only peer-reviewed study which appears to directly address the issue of health and proximity to wind turbines is:

    Pedersen and Waye (2007). “Wind turbine noise, annoyance, and self-reported health and well-being in different living environments.” Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 64:480-486, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17332136

    That study found that there was no associated increase in sleep disturbance or other negative health effects with increasing proximity to a wind turbine. Indeed, in their study groups, people living closer to wind turbines actually had slightly lower self-reported rates of sleep disturbance and chronic health problems.

    And as to the local experience, I am only aware of Sean Hayford O’Leary’s account from the Northfield News:

    “More than 2,000 students on the St. Olaf campus live within half a mile of that turbine — last year, I lived in a dorm just over 1,000 feet away from of it. I was never bothered by noise or any other “quality of life” issue with the turbine, and I have never once heard another student complain about any such issue. In fact, the only complaint relating to the turbine I’ve encountered is the constant desire for more to be built on campus.

    http://www.northfieldnews.com/news.php?viewStory=50272

    1. Sorry for the hassle, Patrick. I can’t seem to override the spam filter settings on comments with multiple links in them. But your original comment is now live and I’ve deleted your additional attempts.

  16. This is the first time that I have ever posted to this site. I dearly appreciate the desire of the founding members to deliver to the Northfield community a communication channel that can be informative, dialogical, spirited and civil.

    With respect to the Spring Creek Rice County CUP application, I am one of the neighboring members whose property adjoins the site of the proposed towers. Beyond my position on the current project, please know that I retain documentation originating back to 2005 when I queried key Rice County and Northfield officials asking if they were collaborating (or could collaborate) with adjoining governmental bodies on how to best plan for the insertion of more wind turbines into our communities. At that time, I also reached out directly to other wind energy members of our community who, at that time, had a direct vested interest in the growth of the wind turbine industry. Unfortunately, at that time my request for discussion was not advanced. I mention this historical information to bring some elasticity to the question of NIBYism which has surfaced in this dialogue.

    I am a participant in my neighborhood, the city of Northfield, my township, county, state, country and world. And I recognize that I am a self-interested member in these concentric and sometimes intertwining communities. Each circle is a political entity that attempts to define its sphere by issuing and following appropriate public policies. You can either agree or disagree with the position that the US wind industry is less mature than its counterparts overseas. You may agree or disagree with the position statement that more and more data is coming to the fore in communities all around the world with respect to the health impacts of industrial wind turbines. You may agree or disagree with the economics behind wind turbines, by researching how they are financed, supported by tax credits, and who receives the benefits from their presence. (Not materially different, perhaps, than other energy channels.) And all of us may take some stance with respect to the appropriate setbacks of wind turbines from the residences or work environments of our citizens.

    While all of these issues are the subject of healthy conversations both in Northfield, as well as currently around the world, I am thankful that Northfield Planning Commission recently requested that “. . .Rice County initiate a dialogue with all appropriate jurisdictions to jointly review the uses and other regulations found in the Urban Reserve Districted of the County Zoning ordinance and also investigate best practices and research with regard to Wind Turbines to determine mutually agreeable policies regarding setbacks as well as other standards relating to the siting and operation of wind turbines.”

    And why is this recommendation so important? Because without an official public policy position mutually agreed to by adjoining governmental bodies on wind turbine use in and around the wingspan of Northfield, any time a wind turbine project comes up, the debate will naturally evolve or devolve to questions of politics, and not policy. In the current environment, we are not planning and executing. We are reacting. And, sometimes even emotionally. Where the debate should reside is how to appropriately plan for the growth of wind as a viable source of power for the needs of our communities.

    So for me, it is not a question of whether to increase the footprint of wind energy for our increasing energy consumption needs. The question is: How to best accomplish this? Right now, everyone but elected and volunteer officials is driving the conversation. Clearly, the Northfield Planning Commissioners see the need for a coordinated and collaborative approach. There is absolutely no downside in having this integrative discussion. It is a wise, prudent, rational, measured and cautious approach. I hope that the City Council will agree with their recommendation. And I have the utmost confidence that this ensuing dialogue will result in good public policy.

    1. Hi Justin, thanks for chiming in with your well reasoned comment. My very negative initial reaction, perhaps over reaction (sorry Tracy) to the Planning Commission’s decision to approve the Carleton turbine, and nix the GroWind turbine was because of what I think is the overt and blatant favoring of the Carleton project. I would have more respect for the PC if it would have either rejected or recommended both projects without distinction.

      Regardless of whether turbines are labeled with the friendly names of local colleges or have the labels of private enterprise on them, they will provide some non carbon based energy.

      I do wonder what, if any role, the Planning Commission played in the earlier decisions to green light the existing college turbines. Perhaps infrasonic sound was not then understood as a possible health hazard, or more cynically, perhaps infrasonic sound was not yet invented as a convenient way to delay unfavored projects. Tracy, what was the PC’s role back then?

      I trust Patrick’s evaluation of the science(comment 65), and point to his quotation of Sean’s sanguine opinion of the turbine at St. Olaf–and Sean lives in a dorm just over 1000 feet from it.

      Most importantly, I think Bruce Anderson’s comment that “the perfect must not become the enemy of the good” should be heeded.

    2. (I apologize in advance for the length of this post. I wouldn’t be so obnoxiously persistent on this issue if I didn’t care deeply about it…)

      Justin, you make several good points. I completely agree with this portion of your conclusion:

      Where the debate should reside is how to appropriately plan for the growth of wind as a viable source of power for the needs of our communities.
      So for me, it is not a question of whether to increase the footprint of wind energy for our increasing energy consumption needs. The question is: How to best accomplish this?

      I also, frankly, have no problem with the portion of the Northfield Planning Commission statement that you quote when you say:

      I am thankful that Northfield Planning Commission recently requested that …”Rice County initiate a dialogue with all appropriate jurisdictions to jointly review the uses and other regulations found in the Urban Reserve District of the County Zoning ordinance and also investigate best practices and research with regard to Wind Turbines to determine mutually agreeable policies regarding setbacks as well as other standards relating to the siting and operation of wind turbines.”

      (It’s also important to note that this comes right after the part where they say that wind development in the urban reserve district is compatible with the city’s comprehensive plan.)

      I do, however, have a problem with the timing of such discussion. Spring Creek Wind, LLC has made a good-faith effort to meet all current, reasonable requirements imposed by the Rice County wind ordinance, and has no doubt invested considerable resources in bringing the project to this stage. The Planning Commission was glowing in its support of the new proposed Carleton wind project (which is inside the Urban Reserve District) and there has been no effort to in any way hinder development of the community’s two existing turbines (one of which is inside the Urban Reserve District). While I know you would disagree, I simply feel that there is no demonstrated reason why this project should be treated any differently. The sky will not fall if these two turbines are installed.

      I believe that if they ARE installed, the five wind turbines surrounding Northfield would be a sign that the city is serious about sustainable development, and would greatly enhance the city’s efforts to attract green businesses.

      An inter-jurisdictional discussion of future wind development could be helpful, as I agree that it’s a near-certainty that any future proposed wind projects in the area will face the same kinds of challenges from neighbors that this round has, and having a pitched battle every time a project is proposed is not healthy for the community. (I also have offered some constructive criticism to Anna Schmalzbauer and Jim Sparks, developers of this project, saying that they would be well-advised to proactively hold community Q & A sessions, anticipating there will be neighborly concerns,for any future projects they may be involved in. Any wind project anywhere is going to face intense opposition in the future. It seems to be a near-universal phenomenon that folks want to have their cake [“I like wind energy”] and eat it, too [“just build it somewhere else, damn it”].)

      I should clarify for folks, Justin, that when you say:

      Beyond my position on the current project, please know that I retain documentation originating back to 2005 when I queried key Rice County and Northfield officials asking if they were collaborating (or could collaborate) with adjoining governmental bodies on how to best plan for the insertion of more wind turbines into our communities. At that time, I also reached out directly to other wind energy members of our community who, at that time, had a direct vested interest in the growth of the wind turbine industry. Unfortunately, at that time my request for discussion was not advanced.

      the “other wind energy members of our community who, at that time, had a direct vested interest in the growth of the wind turbine industry” would be me, and the RENew Northfield board of directors, of which I was the volunteer president at the time. RENew Northfield was attempting to develop a single-turbine project in partnership with the Hubers family on the same site. Part of the motivation for the project was to provide a sustainable source of income for our grassroots, low-budget, all-volunteer non-profit. For a variety of reasons the project never came to fruition. Those reasons had nothing to do with permitting. Rice County had issued a CUP for the project without incident before your query to city and county officials and RENew Northfield.

      Some other pertinent information concerning community dialogue on local wind energy development prior to that time: RENew Northfield was founded in 2001 by myself and a number of other locals who felt that it was important to engage the community in dialogue about how to responsibly move the community toward local energy self-sufficiency as expeditiously as possible. We elected to focus initially on promoting development of locally owned utility-scale wind projects, with the feeling that the high profile of such projects would generate more interest than, for example, aggressively promoting energy efficiency. (I’ve worked professionally in the energy efficiency field for most of my career, so I recognize that’s where to get the biggest bang for the energy-related buck – it’s not very sexy, unfortunately.)

      From 2001 through 2004, when Carleton’s first turbine became operational, we organized and hosted numerous community meetings, with a tremendous amount of volunteer effort, including a community wind conference that attracted well over 200 people in April 2002, and a number of smaller but still well-attended meetings.
      The community was behind wind development as a result of this community dialogue to such an extent that scientific polling for the Northfield Public Schools conducted in advance of the fall 2003 excess levy referendum showed that 80% of the local population supported school district ownership of a turbine. The intent, at the time, was to site a school district turbine on the same property as the first Carleton turbine. Didn’t happen, but that’s a whole ‘nother loooooong story… (sigh…..)

      We actually attempted to initiate dialogue between the City of Northfield and Rice County on these issues, but THAT didn’t happen either. It wasn’t for lack of trying, however.

      After the RENew wind project failed to materialize, RENew Northfield didn’t really engage in any other local wind energy education efforts, and the organization has been much lower profile the past several years. After a hiatus of several years, I’m back on the board (though I’m not the president).

      Once again, I would love to see dialogue between appropriate jurisdictions concerning fine-tuning siting and other wind-energy-related issues. However, Rice County DOES have a wind energy ordinance in place which is comparable to ordinances in many other counties around Minnesota and I don’t believe Spring Creek Wind, LLC’s project should be denied or delayed during what may well be a difficult or vain attempt to achieve this goal.

      As much as I would love to see it happen, I have a hard time envisioning Northfield, Dundas, surrounding townships, Rice County and Dakota County hammering out a Five-Year Wind Energy Development Plan.

      This ain’t the Soviet Union, people – let’s let some green capitalists do their thang.

    3. Justin,

      Thanks for bringing a bit of reason to this debate, and your comment show you are thinking in far more useful terms than the simple pro and con of some of us. As a member of two local planning commissions, I would enjoy hosting a joint PC meeting sometime to discuss how we should approach these sorts of problems as a region, and you and other people willing to think deeply will be most valuable to that regionalism.

  17. Justin, I’m glad you chimed in here. 

    Just a reminder to you and everyone to review our discussion guidelines. Most important:

    Avoid addressing a person indirectly when disagreeing with them. In other words, use their first name and talk to them as if you were conversing face-to-face, eg, “John, I think you’re wrong because…”

    People have mostly been abiding by this rule thus far, with a couple of minor infractions, quickly rectified.

    So Justin, if you have something specific to challenge Bruce Anderson about, be sure to write something like "Bruce, you’re missing my point about X…"  It can help to reference the comment number (e.g., 48.1) or to attach your comment to his directly via the Reply link.  And be aware that we have two Bruce’s participating: Bruce A and Bruce M!

    And Bruce A, let it be known that I’m the only one who can say, "Tracy, you ignorant slut." 😉

  18. My input was to add to the arguments some more data. Bruce, in your 60.1 you have the date May 1 as ‘to-date no published reports’ countering the ‘if you can’t hear it, it can’t hurt you’ argument (Leventhal).

    The process, invited by all good science, in this case regarding the ‘can’t hear, can’t harm’ hypothesis is one of ‘taking a position so that others can prove you wrong’. Patrick, you were able to retrace my internet search to a peer-reviewed publication of Oct 2010 which to me is Salt’s effort to begin to prove Leventhal wrong.

    Wind needs to be part of our energy economy. Justin, you correctly point out that without policy, locally we can only be reactive. We have another opportunity to go forward (if that is what we decide).

    I think the decision process needs to include not flatly assuming that since there is no proof (so far), there is no harm.

    1. Dean,

      Dr. Salt’s powerpoint presentation, which you cited, does make his intent clear. It also creates the straw man of the ‘can’t hear, can’t harm’ hypothesis that you describe. However, it does nothing to prove that wind turbines have caused, or will cause, any harm to their neighbors.

      The existing scientific research does not show that “what you can’t hear can’t hurt you.” Rather, the existing scientific literature, thus far, has simply found no measurable, statistically significant health effect caused by wind turbines upon the people who live next to them.

    2. Dean,

      You said:

      I think the decision process needs to include not flatly assuming that since there is no proof (so far), there is no harm.

      That’s a lot of negatives to parse, but I think you allude, at least in spirit, to the so-called Precautionary Principle (PP), also cited by name in #14, way above, by Carol Overland.

      The lower-case version of the PP — be careful — is common sense, like looking both ways before crossing the street. Who could oppose that?

      But the upper-case PP is more specific. Here’s Wikipedia’s summary (my emphasis):

      The (PP) states that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking the action.

      Like many philosophical statements this one admits various readings. What does it mean, for instance, for a risk to be “suspected”, and who does the suspecting? And what does “proof” that something is “not harmful” mean here? Whom do “those taking the action” need to convince, and how will we know when that’s been done?

      The PP may derive, if distantly, from good common sense — don’t be reckless. But as a practical guide to policy it seems to me useless at best and dangerous at worst. Had it been in (legal) effect in the past, moreover, it would probably have blocked the development of vaccines, hybrid seeds, and other innovations that, although not free, are beneficial on balance.

      Every innovation (GM crops, gene-splicing, stem cell therapy, wind power, …) needs to be evaluated for costs and benefits, with due acknowledgment of the difficulty of predicting the future and with openness to new evidence as it emerges. Costs of doing nothing — continuing with petrocarbon- generated electricity, for example — need to be acknowledged, too.

      In a properly functioning system, some innovations will make the cut and some won’t. And some mistakes will be made. But the PP puts a big thumb on the scale.

      1. Paul, you probably would have enjoyed a recent reaction to a product label that said “This product has been shown to cause cancer in California” (paraphrased I supposed). A comment was made “thank goodness we aren’t using this in California, hwere it would be dangerous”. I suppose the California warning tags we see everywhere are PP run amok.

  19. Count me with the NIMBY faction on this one. Still, I’ve got the feeling that this one is going to the PIMBY (Please! In My Back Yard!) faction.

    It seems we have ‘social justice’ PIMBYs, ‘sustainable community energy PIMBYs, ‘green has got to be good’ PIMBYs, and plain old ‘let’s make a buck’ PIMBYs. That would appear to be a tough coalition to beat here in river city. Not much room for those who just don’t like to look at these things on every horizon, or hear them hum all day everyday, or whose property values will be shot to hell when they are built. Those seemingly selfish concerns will not fare well against a juggernaut of sustainability, justice and the (heavily subsidized) profit motive. And now we learn that windmills actually bring jobs! The writing would appear to be on the wall on this one.

    Still… wind energy is good. I get that. What I don’t get is the idea that it is good anywhere. Particularly, in this case, when it seems there are plenty of other good high sites a few miles farther from the city limits. Or that, in general, the best place to put them is close to existing power plants. Or that placing several together is always more cost effective and energy efficient than scattering one or two all over God’s creation. But I guess that’s really all beside the point since the community will actually benefit more by placing the towers all over town: We’re Green! And the more people who share in the negative consequences the better: We’re Just! Tough to argue with that.

    1. It’s especially tough to “argue with that” when the response is akin to environmental ‘shaming’…

      I just keep remembering the same response to anyone who was cautionary about ethanol/ethanol plants, and now that’s all sort of behind us, with better ‘science’ prevailing.

      I am really proud of our Planning Commission for how seriously they worked on this issue; I think the differing opinions there actually show how hard they all tried to make sense of a lot of conflicting info, and regulations that MAY be behind the ‘times’.

      What I really don’t get is the plan to put one of the southern area turbines in a heavily wooded ravine where they have to cut down a lot of trees to locate it there. I thought trees are a no-no around wind turbines; they cause friction slowing down the wind…

    2. William,

      I find the arguments on both sides to be fascinating.

      I have wondered, as you do, there haven’t been more people concerned with the built environment, i.e. how ugly these things are, and how they don’t fit into the desire to promote “Old Town” Northfield.

      “I don’t like how it looks” carried the day on the Comp Plan. I’m surprised there isn’t much talk about ugly for wind turbines.

      1. Hopefully all the interested jurisdictions, including the feds, will revisit the regulations with regard to tower placement.
        For all the benefits of wind energy, the fact remains that these types of turbines are huge industrial structures with plenty of negative side effects. Regulations, including zoning, should better reflect that.

      2. David – there IS discussion of aesthetics and visual impacts in the Rice County CUP process – those are two criteria of a handful, resulting in heavy weighting of the visuals of any project in the County criteria.

  20. One thing I would suggest is a little Gedankenexperiment. Suppose that tomorrow a peer-reviewed medical journal came out with a strong case that wind turbines posed an imminent health risk. What should happen? I think that the correct answer is that the PC could ask the elected body they report to to impose a moratorium on further wind turbines until the zoning codes could be updated. Actually, I believe this request (for a moratorium) could come to the elected officials straight from an ad hoc citizen’s group with no PC play at all. Beyond that, I think we are asking a lot when we ask the PCs to ignore their written codes to act against something (see Mistake #8). Fortunately, in this case the Northfield PC did not have to do so, since their position on the Northfield Twp turbines was merely advisory.

    1. Bruce,

      Jawohl, eine gute Gedankenexperiment!

      Of course, there’s usually a devil hiding somewhere in the details. Among the Teufelsverstecker in this case are the words “strong” and “imminent”, and (especially) the nature of the “health risk.”

      Sure, such questions can and probably would be approached in a spirit of common sense. But an element of common sense that needs to be in the thinking mix is the known — not speculative or even “imminent” — cost of doing business as usual, with carbon-based electricity generation. Business as usual is not always the “precautionary” course.

      1. Sorry, I should either have addressed “Bruces” or said which Bruce (Morlan, in this case) I had in mind. Brings to mind a favorite Monty Python sketch about an Australian philosophy department entirely composed of Bruces …

    2. Here I am talking to myself again …

      In conversation this AM at the Three Wise Guys meeting, we tried to decide if the whole infrasound debate is in the category of …

      Vaccines causing autism, a well known (in scientific circles) cautionary tale of the power of political posturing to completely drown out rational debate.

      OR

      Lung cancer and other causes of death in relation to smoking (British Medical Journal, Nov 10, 1956). Ironic in light of this summary of ads from the 1950’s, which shows “doctors” endorsing cigarettes, presumably before they found out they kill you (the cigarettes, that is).

      This is the conundrum confronting city and county councils (the C5 problem). I, myself, plan to take a deep breath (of air unpolluted by a coal fired power plant) and practice restraint.

      1. Bruce M,

        I worry about you talking to yourself, and when you count yoursel(f/ves) as *three* wise guys, things are really getting out of hand.

        Seriously, if you find out where infrasound fits on the spectrum you mention, let us know. There’s a lot of middle room between those extremes, of course.

  21. Dear Locally Grown Conversationalists:

    I have appreciated the responses recently posted on this thread. In particular, I am thankful to Bruce Anderson for the historical context to the Northfield wind conversation. There seems to be a general agreement that a wider energy (wind) conversation would be beneficial; however, a good deal of skepticism that the dialogue would result in the creation of sound public policy. By nature, I am an optimist.

    1. Justin,

      Did part of your comment get lost? It seems an abrupt ending.

      And Bruce is right here ‘in the room’ so it’s best if you address him in the first person, eg, “Bruce, I’m thankful to you for…”

  22. News flash: Northfield City Council votes 5-2 (Yea — Buckheit, Denison, Rossing, Vohs, Zweifel; Nay — Pokorney, Pownell) for resolution of support of Spring Creek Wind’s proposed project with identical wording as was used in their unanimous vote of support for the Carleton wind project.

    Heartfelt public comments were heard from many on both sides on the issue. On now to the Rice County Planning Commission Thursday evening…

    1. Bruce,

      Can you make a copy of the resolutions available? I would also be interested to know why Pokorney and Pownell voted for one project, and against the other project when they had identical wording.

      1. David,
        I did not take notes (I wish I had), so I can’t provide the exact wording. I don’t want to mis-characterize it by paraphrasing it, so I’ll refrain from doing so.

        I had hoped to be able to go to the KYMN archived video of the meeting to get the exact language, but it doesn’t appear to be there yet for some reason. I’ll post it here as soon as I see it anywhere.

        The rationale that both Jim Pokorney and Rhonda Pownell gave for voting against the identical resolution for Spring Creek Wind LLC that they had supported for the proposed Carleton project centered on their stated concerns about uncertainty regarding safe setbacks of turbines from urban residential properties. They expressed concern about the possibility that the Spring Creek Wind turbines (though the closest one would be 3300 feet from the closest homes within city limits, 2500 feet from the current Urban Expansion Boundary, and 1700 feet from the edge of the County’s Urban Reserve District), might in some way constrain growth of the southern portion of the city.

      2. David,
        I just asked for and received the text of the resolutions from Brian O’Connell. The resolutions are as follows.

        Regarding the Carleton turbine:

        CITY OF NORTHFIELD

        M2010-0191

        THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF NORTHFIELD HEREBY FINDS THAT THE RICE COUNTY CONDITIONAL USE PERMIT REQUEST FOR THE CARLETON WIND TURBINE IS CONSISTENT WITH THE PRINCIPLES EXPRESSED IN NORTHFIELD’S COMPREHENSIVE PLAN AND DOES NOT POSE EVIDENT OBSTACLES TO ACHIEVING FUTURE PLANNING OBJECTIVES. FURTHERMORE, THE CITY COUNCIL SUPPORTS LOCAL ENERGY GENERATION PROJECTS WHICH FURTHER OUR GOALS OF SUSTAINABILITY FOR THE CITY AND REGION.

        Adopted: December 7, 2010

        Regarding Spring Creek Wind:

        CITY OF NORTHFIELD

        M2010-0192

        THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF NORTHFIELD HEREBY FINDS THAT THE RICE COUNTY CONDITIONAL USE PERMIT REQUEST FOR THE SPRING CREEK WIND LLC PROJECT IS CONSISTENT WITH THE PRINCIPLES EXPRESSED IN NORTHFIELD’S COMPREHENSIVE PLAN AND DOES NOT POSE EVIDENT OBSTACLES TO ACHIEVING FUTURE PLANNING OBJECTIVES. FURTHERMORE, THE CITY COUNCIL SUPPORTS LOCAL ENERGY GENERATION PROJECTS WHICH FURTHER OUR GOALS OF SUSTAINABILITY FOR THE CITY AND REGION.

        Adopted: December 7, 2010

        Finally, the resolution concerning “inter-governmental dialogue”:

        CITY OF NORTHFIELD

        M2010-0193

        THE CITY COUNCIL REQUESTS THAT RICE COUNTY PARTICIPATES IN AN INTER-GOVERNMENTAL DIALOGUE WITH ALL APPROPRIATE JURISDICTIONS (COUNTY, CITY, TOWNSHIP) TO JOINTLY REVIEW THE USES AND OTHER REGULATIONS FOUND IN THE URBAN RESERVE DISTRICT OF THE COUNTY ZONING ORDINANCE AND ALSO INVESTIGATE BEST PRACTICES AND RESEARCH WITH REGARD TO WIND TURBINES TO DETERMINE MUTUALLY AGREEABLE POLICIES REGARDING SETBACKS AS WELL AS OTHER STANDARDS RELATING TO THE SITING AND OPERATION OF WIND TURBINES.
        Adopted: December 7, 2010

  23. I commend the Mayor and Betsey and the rest of the Council for making their wind turbine recommendations in accordance with established law and established planning guidelines. I appreciated their (your) careful consideration of the issue.

    1. I will second Patrick’s sentiments. They were under intense pressure to decide otherwise, and I felt they made a principled decision based on established city policy (and further, encouraged the county to follow established policy).

  24. Bruce, I see Suzy Rook in the Nfld News wrote:

    For Bruce Anderson, Northfielders can take a lesson from George Orwell’s classic “Animal Farm.” In the 1945 novel, an allegory which uses farm animals to depict the Stalinist pre World War II Soviet Union, Anderson noted during Tuesday’s City council discussion on recommendations on two wind turbine projects that the ruling-class pigs systematically reduced their guiding principles to one: All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.

    “Opponents of the Spring Creek wind project want to be treated differently than other wind facilities have been treated in the immediate area,” he said, referring to the lack of opposition to two current wind turbines operating just outside city limits and a unanimous recommendation to approve a Carleton College wind turbine endorsed just minutes earlier.

    And while Anderson, who has long supported wind energy, craftily squeaked in a reference to the story’s windmill, a symbol of the pigs’ manipulation of others to satisfy their greed, his citation of the novel seemed to hit home for several council members.

    Could you copy/paste the full-text of your comments here?

    1. Griff,
      For the record, here is the statement I read:

      Bruce Anderson 501 St. Olaf Avenue
      Northfield City Council meeting, December 7, 2010

      In Animal Farm, George Orwell’s allegorical tale about the Stalinist Soviet Union, a crucial plot development revolves, curiously, around construction of a windmill on the farm.

      I by no means intend to draw parallels between the Stalinist USSR and Northfield in 2010. However, Orwell’s tale remains instructive. The most memorable moment in the story occurs when a modified slogan appears on the barn wall, after the animals’ original idealistic Seven Commandments have been cynically reduced to one: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

      Opponents of the proposed Spring Creek Wind project argue that it should be treated differently than other wind facilities in the area. The Planning Commission’s differential recommendations concerning the proposed Carleton and Spring Creek Wind projects reflect this, sadly. I believe this is unjust and, if approved by the Council, would be a damaging precedent.

      The existing St. Olaf wind turbine, within the Urban Reserve District, is within ½ mile of about 30 private single-family homes. The nearest homes are about 1500 feet from the turbine. The Northfield City Council had nothing negative to say about this project when it was issued a CUP in 2006.

      The proposed Carleton wind turbine, also within the Urban Reserve District, is within about 1100 feet of the nearest neighbor, and within the City’s Urban Expansion Boundary. The Planning Commission issued an unqualified statement about the Carleton project’s consistency with the City’s Comprehensive Plan.

      The Spring Creek Wind turbine nearest the city is more than 1700 feet outside the Urban Expansion Boundary.

      I would like to think that in a community that takes pride in good government, and in the United States, where we pride ourselves on being a nation of laws, not men, that no animals are more equal than others. There is no compelling reason, in terms of public health or community values, as embodied in our local “Seven Commandments” (the Northfield Comprehensive Plan and Rice County wind ordinance), to treat the Spring Creek Wind project any differently than the other wind projects which have been embraced warmly (if not universally) by the community.

      One final comment concerning the Planning Commission’s recommendation concerning inter-governmental dialogue. On the face of it, this would seem to be a reasonable request regarding future projects. However, it should not be allowed to derail any current projects. Similar requests for “dialogue” have been used by opponents around the country to stop all wind development cold. Unless and until there is a decision to change the Rice County ordinance, the proposed projects should not be held to the patently unfair standard that they should meet potential future standards which may or may not be forthcoming.

      Thank you.

      1. Whether you are trying to block construction of a wind turbine or a motocross park, in the end, Orwell is exactly correct in saying “some animals are more equal than others”. But in terms of literary references, I find the golden rule more applicable. As summarized by Parker and Hart (Remember the Golden Rule), this rule states that “Whoever has the gold makes the rules.”

        This rule explains why an architect (Frank-Lloyd Wright?) is rumored to have said that he designed a house on a hillside to look into the hill and woods rather than to contemplate the valley. When asked why, the reply was that the house owned the hillside and could protect it, while the valley was owned by others.

        Planning and Zoning is a complex business that requires a careful balance between property rights of the landowners and the amorphous wishes of the people who do not own but do want to preserve that elusive concept called “quality of life”. The near-religious war in this thread is indicative of the furor and fervor that the collision between competing needs can generate. But, as the proposed ethanol plant in Bridgewater, the wind turbines, the motocross park all demonstrate, it can be very hard to work rationally toward a goal when the pros and cons are being presented by True Believers. The Northfield City Council made the best they could of this mess.

        Whether you believe (or not) that ethanol is a good solution, your government had concluded that it was part of a sustainable energy policy and was willing to spend your money to ensure that it got a foothold. Bridgewater was more conservative than the federal government, and looked at more than just the subsidies to determine that local conditions (water, particularly, see MPR) did not support building a plant here.

        Whether you believe (or not) that wind power is a good idea, your government has similarly decided to spend your money on that idea. And whether you believe that motocross will generate jobs and revive a part of the local economy, your government has endorsed such activities through its planning and zoning regulations (and will eventually put in an overpass at County 9 and I-35 per that plan, said overpass being justified in part by the traffic that is having to take indirect routes to reach the park and the surrounding homes (well, see Elko Speedway for that future)).

        In the end, it is the humble planning process, those tiresome hearings held years ago, that sets the stage for decisions today. Showing up at the World Series with a football, ready to play, is to come to the wrong game with the wrong equipment. (With apologies to Twins fans who may need a refresher).

      2. For LoGroNo’ers who don’t have time to track it down themselves, here’s a pertinent passage from “Animal Farm” chapter 5:

        “At the Meeting on the following Sunday the question of whether or not to begin work on the windmill was to be put to the vote. When the animals had assembled in the big barn, Snowball stood up and, though occasionally interrupted by bleating from the sheep, set forth his reasons for advocating the building of the windmill. Then Napoleon stood up to reply. He said very quietly that the windmill was nonsense and that he advised nobody to vote for it, and promptly sat down again; he had spoken for barely thirty seconds, and seemed almost indifferent as to the effect he produced. At this Snowball sprang to his feet, and shouting down the sheep, who had begun bleating again, broke into a passionate appeal in favour of the windmill. Until now the animals had been about equally divided in their sympathies, but in a moment Snowball’s eloquence had carried them away.”

  25. Lest anyone get the impression that Snowball/Bruce A’s eloquence carried away the City Council, the five councilors who ultimately voted in favor of the resolution did so out of a shared conviction that they were appropriately upholding established policy (as expressed in the Comp Plan and Rice County’s wind ordinance). My impression is that they held this view before I spoke.

    My hope was to help them maintain the steel in their spines by letting them know that they would have strong (though obviously not unanimous) support from their constituents if they did what I (and many others, apparently) feel was clearly the right thing.

    1. Bruce, I recommend reading what comes next, in which is revealed what lies behind Napoleon’s seeming indifference. “Animal Farm” is wonderful socio-political allegory on so many levels! (Note: the text is easy to find with a google search on “snowball’s eloquence.”)

      1. Barry,
        It is, indeed, “wonderful socio-political allegory on so many levels”!

        My memory of the scene from which you quote was refreshed by following your advice and checking the text online. I reproduce what follows for the edification of fellow LoGroNo Conversationalists:

        By the time he had finished speaking, there was no doubt as to which way the vote would go. But just at this moment Napoleon stood up and, casting a peculiar sidelong look at Snowball, uttered a high-pitched whimper of a kind no one had ever heard him utter before.

        At this there was a terrible baying sound outside, and nine enormous dogs wearing brass-studded collars came bounding into the barn. They dashed straight for Snowball, who only sprang from his place just in time to
        escape their snapping jaws. In a moment he was out of the door and they were after him. Too amazed and frightened to speak, all the animals
        crowded through the door to watch the chase. Snowball was racing across the long pasture that led to the road. He was running as only a pig can run, but the dogs were close on his heels. Suddenly he slipped and it seemed certain that they had him. Then he was up again, running faster than ever, then the dogs were gaining on him again. One of them all but
        closed his jaws on Snowball’s tail, but Snowball whisked it free just in time. Then he put on an extra spurt and, with a few inches to spare,
        slipped through a hole in the hedge and was seen no more.

        Whew! Perhaps I should reconsider my plan to go to tonight’s Rice County Planning Commission meeting…

        If the worst comes to pass, it’s been wonderful knowing you all!

    2. Bruce A.,

      I would be interested to hear your take on whether what really carried the day was “Go Green” (see William’s posts above), rather than a thoughtful planning process.

      One thing that fascinated me was how the wind projects were perceived as being more equal than other commercial and industrial projects. So, not only are some willmill projects more equal than others, windmills are more equal than other commercial projects.

      Do you think that is a fair conclusion?

      1. David,
        The questions you pose are valid and worthy of discussion. As I hope is apparent, I’m not shy about engaging in vigorous discussion and debate. However, I simply don’t have the time to start stirring that particularly large and pungent kettle of fish right now. It would surely start another LENGTHY discussion, perhaps worthy of a thread of its own…Griff?

      2. Bruce,

        I don’t want to stir the pot on this issue. As a general rule, I think Northfield tries to do too much planning without a clear idea of the intent of the planning. So, I agree with the decision.

        When it comes to comprehensive “planning”, my observation is that the Planning Commission tends to plan for the individual preferences of the Planning Commision members rather than the separate interests of the City. I think that the City should be primarily concerned with the economic impact upon the City. In this case, the City had almost no economic interest. The Council seemed to struggle with all kinds of issues that are irrelevant to the City – proper siting, “green-ness”, possible medical concerns, intended use, etc.

  26. Spring Creek Wind round 5 (of 6): Rice County Planning Commission votes 4-1 to send the CUP application on the Rice County Board of Commissioners for final approval.

    No report from me on the Carleton or Gro Wind projects, which were later on the agenda, because I (and my carpool-mate, Greg Muth) were all meetinged out, felt that the Carleton project was in no jeopardy, and didn’t know enough about the Gro Wind project to comment intelligently.

  27. Bruce,
    Thank you for your report from the Rice County Planning Commission meeting. I am very sorry that work duties prevented me from attending.

  28. Carol,

    Way, way above (but recently) you observe that “there IS discussion of aesthetics and visual impacts in the Rice County CUP process”.

    Thanks for the information. Could you quote (very briefly, if possible) or give a link to this language? I wonder how Rice County, or any government entity, would actually measure “aesthetics and visual impacts”.

    You allude, too, to “heavy weighting of the visuals of any project in the County criteria”. The numbers guy in me wonders what “heavy” means: Heavier than something else? “Determinative”, as lawyers might say? Are other criteria weighted less heavily?

    1. CarolO and PaulZ, you seem to be alluding to a multiattribute utility theory-like model of decision making. Without getting into the whole Arrow’s impossibility theorem domain. The idealists amongst us would like to believe that it is possible to achieve an optimal decision criteria but the theorists amongst us are very aware of the limitations of shared decision processes (see, for example, Consensus decision making, which, I believe, is practiced by Just Food Coop).

      While it would be nice and convenient if planning commissions could test the suitability of a siting for an undesirable object (e.g., a racetrack) by computing a simple function:

      desirability ~ a0*(viewshed) + a1*(jobs) + a2*(carbon footprint) + …

      in fact by being so precise we simply give the lawyers specific targets to attack (a0 is too big and why do you think you can include viewshed anyway?). So we practice amateur law by trying to weasel word things like “quality of life” or “aesthetics and visual impacts”. And by doing so, we often find ourselves unable to say no to some things we might want to say no to.

      1. Yes, it’s hard to make decisions, especially complex ones.

        As for Just Foods Coop, their Board manual (it’s online) say this about how the Board makes decisions:

        The Board decision-making process may be based on consensus or the use of Robert’s Rules of Order depending on the scope of the topic and the desire of the Board.

        This reads to me like an excellent illustration of the difficulty of making decisions: even deciding how to decide is difficult.

  29. Tomorrow morning, Tuesday Dec. 14 starting at 8:30 am, wind turbines and motocross are on the agenda. I suggest that many of you go to observe.

    I try to check out the project location and interview neighbors before taking a position, be it a wind turbine or a dirt bike raceway. Local people know the lay of the land.

    Tonite, Monday Decc. 13 at 7 pm, I am trying to get to the Cannon City Township monthly meeting (near a church in the town) to get input from the locals on the motocross project. Anyone else going?

  30. Nfld News:

    Turbine project unexpectedly stalled

    The Conditional Use Request for a pair of wind turbines in Northfield Township was unexpectedly withdrawn Tuesday. County officials said they received a letter Monday from Medin Renewable Energy, withdrawing the request for the CUP that would allow construction to begin on the turbines. Officials at Medin Renewable Energy, of Gro Wind LLC, said the landowner of the current site wants to sell the property.

  31. Thx, Patrick. Oddly, I don’t see anything about the vote on the Nfld News, Patch, or KYMN websites, given that this has been a big story in Northfield.

    However, the Faribault Daily News has the story: Rice County approves turbine projects. I was surprised that Galen Malecha voted against the Spring Creek project.

    The Rice County Board of Commissioners approved the CUP request 4 to 1, with Commissioner Galen Malecha dissenting. The board unanimously approved a CUP request for the Carleton wind turbine, proposed to the north of the city… Commissioner Malecha said he voted yes to the Carleton project because compared to the Spring Creek project, there was little to no opposition.

    “All these projects are unique,” he said. “One is a pear, one is a grapefruit. Every effect of these towers is different depending on the project, depending on where it is. I think we need to take that into account.”

    Malecha cautioned against the current trend of approving wind projects simply because they meet current county ordinance. He said there is still too much we do not know, and the sheer amount of public opposition to the Spring Creek project is a hint of what is to come if the board stays on its current path. “Maybe we need to take a step back before we move forward,” he said.

    1. Paul, I invited Galen Malecha to comment on the charitable gambling blog post but I didn’t get a reply. I don’t think Galen uses the internet very much to communicate in his role as county commissioner.

    2. Griff,

      Thanks for trying.

      I’m curious to hear more from Galen about the following (quoted above from Faribault Daily News):

      … Malecha cautioned against the current trend of approving wind projects simply because they meet current county ordinance. He said there is still too much we do not know …

      I have three questions about this quote:

      First, the slightly pejorative “simply” suggests that “meet[ing] current county ordinance” is just a minor and relatively inconsequential first step toward convincing commissioners to approve a project. This seems to me to put things backward. If current county ordinances are appropriate and well-designed, then IMO proposals that meet those ordinances should normally be approved; there’s nothing pernicious in such a “trend.” If county ordinances are inadequate, that’s another matter, and commissioners should worry about that.

      Second, have enough wind projects actually been approved to make such a “trend”?

      Third, what specific questions does Galen think should be addressed before additional projects are approved?

      1. Paul,
        From what I heard of his statements at the Board meeting, Galen did not specify what exactly we do not know which he finds concerning. He did, iirc, cite the level of concern from neighbors of the project as a source of potential concern regarding wind projects. I think he may have also expressed concern about the possibility of negative impacts on property values.

        However, my memory is a little vague on this, so take all of what I wrote above with a largish grain of salt. If he gets a chance, perhaps Galen might clarify his thoughts.

  32. Speaking of wind, and sound impacts of wind turbines, I found an oddity at Harbor Freight the other day, at a price I couldn’t resist. $3. It’s called the Windmill Mole Chaser, the top of the box proclaiming, “Windmill-style fan creates an underground ruckus that sends moles packing.” It turns, transfers sound down the metal pole (pole not included) into the ground, depicted by drawn “sound waves” and has a drawing of a mole heading the other way. However, mole is not “packing” that I can see… concealed perhaps…

    1. Carol- That anti-mole technology has been around since Shep was a pup, and he’s been dead and gone for years. There is something to be said about how bothersome a constant repetitive noise can be. Even Solomon wrote about it in Prov. 19:13 & 27:15.

  33. Today’s Nfld News: Lawsuit won’t stop turbine project

    A Rice County judge this week refused to stop a wind turbine project planned for Northfield Township, just southeast of the city. In his Feb. 8 order, Judge John T. Cajacob found that the outcome of the pending lawsuit wasn’t clear and that more harm would come to the defendants if he were to issue an injunction.

    In a Jan. 10 complaint, plaintiffs in the case, Justin and Kristin Stets, Gregory and Nancy Carlson, Gary and Mary Carlson, Joel and Jeanne Pumper, Tom Small and Deborah Loeser, allege that if constructed as planned, the project would devalue their property and cause adverse health effects to nearby residents. The plaintiffs own property adjacent to or nearby the proposed site of the turbines which lies near the intersection of Hwy. 246 and County Road 1…

    The plaintiffs also claim two of the defendants, David and Jacqueline Hubers, deceived the Stetses and Pumpers when selling off pieces of their farm to the couples and purchasing from the Pumpers a small portion of their property. The arrangement, the complaint alleges, allows the Huberses to site the turbines in a more favorable location near the top of a bluff.

  34. Fbo Daily News: Northfield Township turbine project dies

    The Rice County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved the termination of a conditional use permit that would’ve allowed the construction of two turbines in Northfield Township…

    The request to revoke the CUP came from the lawyer representing turbine developer Spring Creek Wind LLC. Spring Creek proposed constructing two turbines on property owned by David and Jacquelyn Hubers on 110th Street East, in the county’s Urban Reserve District, and just south of the city of Northfield.

  35. Meanwhile, Bridgewater Township recently made itself more “wind turbine friendly”, at least for those smaller “mom-and-pop” systems. Too bad it takes taxpayer funds to make them economically viable, because the Feds and the State are both running on empty.

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